When the City of Toronto kicked off its water meter upgrade program in May 2010, the plan was to install around 465,000 new meters over the next six-year period. The meters were mandatory, free and would mean residents no longer had to let city staff into their homes to read them. The upgrade was planned to begin with homes on fixed-rate plans, moving on to those with older meters in the second half of the project.

Incompatible infrastructure

What the City’s announcement seems to have failed to mention, however, was that the new meters couldn’t be installed in older homes if they still had lead or galvanized pipes, because of incompatibilities with the existing structure that could cause leaks and other issues. This meant that in some cases the installation of the new meter was going to necessitate a water service upgrade to the home as well.

Now, it’s all well and good to replace old infrastructure, particularly lead piping, with shiny new ones, but – as with everything – there’s a cost involved. The City’s Priority Lead Water Service Replacement Program is an ongoing initiative to eradicate lead pipes, in which the City replaces the publicly-owned section of pipe at the same time as the homeowner replaces the privately-owned portion. But there’s a catch.

Carrying the cost

While the homeowner can use the City’s contractor for his section of the work, the costs of the water service upgrade are for his own account! Not to mention the inconvenience and additional costs that might be caused by having the work done in the first place, such as repairs to paving, repainting of walls or replanting of garden areas. And the City promises to do its bit only within 12 weeks after doing yours, which is a bit of a long process for a mandatory exercise.

Looking ahead

The City schedules appointments ahead of time by distributing Appointment Notice Booklets, once it begins working in a specific area. Given that it’s best to perform the water service upgrade either prior to or very soon after the water meter upgrade, you probably want to budget ahead of time if the process is going to involve a cost to you. If you’re the owner of a home that dates back to the 60s or earlier and suspect that you may have lead or galvanized piping, it’s probably worth your while to contact your local plumber and schedule an inspection to find out. You can get an estimate for the water service upgrade at the same time, so that when the City comes a-knocking, you don’t get any surprises.

If you’re still waiting for your water meter upgrade, now is a good time to find out whether you can expect any additional costs when the time comes. If you know you have to replace lead water pipes, you can plan ahead and arrange finance if necessary – before the due date arrives and you’re caught napping.